Increasing gender equality in the fisheries sector is important for food security both at a household level, where women contribute essential food and income to their families, and at the global level, where the seafood industry faces the challenge of sustainably increasing production to feed a growing world population.
According to a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, FAO, production in the sector will need to rise by 20 to 30 million tonnes a year to meet these growing needs.
It said while women are estimated to make up nearly half of all people in the fisheries sector, their work often goes unrecognised and underpaid; their access to opportunities and resources remains limited and their representation in positions of leadership trails far behind other industries.
The report noted that fisheries, aquaculture and related post-capture activities support the livelihoods of over 120 million people, many of whom work in the traditional, small-scale sector.
It said fish are also an important source of nutrition across the world and provides more than 20 percent of animal protein in low-income food-deficit countries.
According to the new findings, the globalisation of markets, stagnating catches from the world’s oceans and climate change, are among the factors putting extra pressure on the livelihoods of women in the fisheries sector.
“In many cases, this adds to existing limits that women entrepreneurs face due to established gender roles and a lack of access to resources like processing technology and storage facilities; according to the report, which traces women’s participation across the industry from catch to professional conferences to corporate board rooms.
“While men continue to dominate capture fisheries particularly offshore and industrial fishing, women across all regions are often relegated to processing, local sale and support roles, including cleaning boats and bringing fish to the markets”, the report stated.
It added that these jobs are typically lowly paid and in some cases, unpaid and less recognised for their contributions to the economy, employment and food security.
The report said future growth in the fisheries industry is expected to come from fish farming, while FAO is supporting governments and the private sector to keep capture fisheries stable and sustainable.
“Yet, women who want to enter into fish production in some developing countries still face a lack of ownership rights that prevents them from owning a boat or land needed for fishing and fish farming.
“Limited access to loans, in addition, often bars women from starting or upgrading their own businesses and adding value to their products to better compete in an increasingly globalized and mechanised industry.
“Widespread gaps in sex-disaggregated data for the fisheries and aquaculture sector however are hindering efforts to address these gender issues”, the FAO study stressed.
It, however, pointed out that the problem of gender equality in the fisheries sector is not limited to small-scale fisheries in developing countries, but also reflected in their relative absence in the board rooms, executive positions and fisheries conferences.
Out of the world’s 100 top seafood companies, it disclosed that only one company is currently run by a woman as CEO, according to the report, compared with 8 percent of top positions held by women in the Fortune 100 USA companies.
Deputy-Director of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Economics Division, Audun Lem, said “Right now, the higher up you look in the industry, the fewer women you see”.
“This, in turn, is keeping the industry back from rising to the food security challenge that lies ahead.
“The industry will not rise to the challenge of scaling up production sustainably if it can’t attract the best people. And it can’t afford to exclude 50 percent of people”, Lem added.

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